Happy Birthday, Amitabh Bachchan
Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan celebrates his 63rd birthday Monday, a just occasion to pay a tribute to the man who continues to dominate Hindi films 35 years after his debut in K.A. Abbas' "Saat Hindustani".
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
It's embarrassing to write a personalised piece on a man whom anyone and everyone claims to know after shaking hands once at a get-together.
This actually happened recently. A gentleman had been harassing AB for a 'together' photograph, a request he had been politely turning down for a while... until he bumped into this persistent gentleman at a social gathering. Before he knew it, the guy had positioned himself next to him and got them clicked together.
"The next thing I knew, he wanted to use the picture on the cover of exercise books!" After all these years AB is still amazed at human treachery.
Though he's by far the biggest icon of showbiz, his failure to come to terms with the mind-games that people play is inexplicable. It's very difficult to win AB's confidence. Once you do, it's even more difficult to lose his trust; he trusts blindly and completely.
That's why my bonding with the Bachchan is so precious. In his own special way he lets the other person know how special he is. While some of my other 'close' star friends in Mumbai like to keep their friendship with me away from prying eyes, AB is extremely demonstrative about his feelings for his true friends.
Two years ago, when "Kaun Banega Crorepati" was blossoming and growing on TV I got the surprise of my life when one evening AB announced to a contestant from Patna that a very dear friend of his lived in that city.
It was a big moment and a turning point in my relationship with AB. In a way, it was his way of acknowledging his trust in me. Until that point, I didn't really feel close to him the way I did with his wife Jaya or his son Abhishek.
In fact, I met him long after I got to know Jaya, one of my all-time favourite actresses, and to my good fortune now a close friend. For a long time, I shied away from making an effort to connect with him. "You must meet him," Jaya kept insisting for long.
During my very first interview with him, I covered my nervousness with cockiness and said, "Jaya steals the show each time the two of you come together in any movie."
There was a disturbing silence. When like a fool I prodded him for an answer, he replied, "What can I say to that?"
Since then, I've come to know it's a part of Mr. Bachchan's basic nature to suffer in silence. "That's the story of my life," he recently said in an unguarded moment.
I sincerely believe no biography can do justice to the enigma called Amitabh Bachchan. We all know the suffering and humiliation this mega-star has gone through as a public figure, first as a politician and then as an entrepreneur. Betrayed by those very people whom he trusted, no one knows how much he has gone through for simply being 'Amitabh Bachchan'.
And yet he has never lost faith in humankind.
I remember during my first meeting with him, AB hardly spoke. He was attentive and warm, but there was no real verbal interaction from him. The next morning on the sets of a film he was a different person. "I hope I was talking sense yesterday. Because I was heavily medicated for a health problem," he told me.
I didn't tell him that there was hardly any talk to talk about.
It takes him a while to find a comfort zone even with the people he trusts. Once there, he's all there. Whether it's Amar Singh and Anil Ambani or a simple non-celebrity journalist from Patna, AB is equally proud of his association with all his true friends. He doesn't measure their value in his life by their social standing or their bank accounts.
It's a slow and cautious process but if he gives you his friendship, it is unconditional and also irrevocable, unless you happen to do something to hurt him radically. People very close to him have done him immense damage. These betrayals haven't made him bitter or cautious in his dealings with human beings. They've just left him a bit baffled and bruised.
But his attitude to human contact remains supremely positive. Amitabh loves to reach out to people, make new friends. He loves to connect with his son Abhishek's generation. "Whenever I shoot with the younger generation I want to socialise with them, go out to a discotheque, freak out... But they seem uncomfortable with me," a crestfallen Amitabh once said.
Not too many people know about his fun side. Our mega star is a great one for SMSs. The messages can be pithy or funny or both. But they make their point tellingly. I'm not at liberty to share some of his naughtier messages here, but I will say one thing. At 62, AB remains the youngest person in the Bachchan household. When he's at home with family or with close friends he's completely relaxed. And often wickedly humorous.
All the three Bachchans -- AB, Jaya and Abhishek are great hosts. One of the things that I look forward to in Mumbai is my evening at Jalsa, the Bachchan residence. Each time I'm invited for a meal, Jaya and Abhishek make sure I've a perfect evening. And if for some reason the head of the family is unable to be home, he makes sure to call to say he hopes I enjoy myself in his absence.
You've heard reams about AB's professionalism. But you still haven't heard enough. I've known this astounding workaholic to sweat it out under the worst possible circumstances without a word of complaint. In Los Angeles two years ago for Sanjay Gupta's "Kaante", AB had a severe back problem and an excruciating toothache.
He not only bore all the pain but also shot action sequences and made sure shooting didn't suffer on his account.
Last year while shooting for Gaurang Doshi's "Deewaar", AB was ensconced for hours together in a set depicting a cave that was barely five ft in height. At the end of the day, he couldn't stand straight. But there wasn't a word of complaint.
Last week he had an acute eye infection. He nonetheless flew to Amsterdam for a festival of his films.
It's because he voluntarily bends down to fulfil his professional commitments that he can stand so tall, high above others.
Most important, AB is a man of tremendous integrity. If you're a friend, he'll go out of his way to accommodate you. The number of films he has done recently just to bail out old friends from financial troubles is legion.
I know of no other showbiz icon who would do so much for his friends. The few times that I've requested him to meet producers, he has not only heard them out but also accommodated their films in his clogged diary.
Recently, a non-Hindi actor needed him to put in a flash guest appearance. Since I knew exactly how crowded his schedule was I was hesitant to ask. But this was a really close friend who genuinely needed AB's presence in his film and I sent him an SMS. The response was immediate. And positive. Of course he would do it!
If I ever make a film (which is doubtful) I know one star who will unquestioningly support my endeavour, and that's AB. I can't say the same about anyone else in the industry. I only have to see that unflinching look of warm acceptance in his eyes to know that this man means business. Or rather, he means a lot more than just business.
Recently, during a private conversation when we spoke about the state of the nation -- when AB expresses concern about the growing vulgarity and mediocrity in every walk of life he speaks in Hindi, and that's when you know he's really disturbed -- he suddenly said: "I've very few friends. I depend on a few people... like you."
To you Amitji, that may have been a casual observation. To me it's a great responsibility. I hope I am up to it, now and for as long as you remain India's biggest, humblest and most cultured star ever.